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Set an Attainment Goal

Set an ambitious goal for increased attainment and monitor progress

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State policymakers and education leaders recognize that increasing postsecondary education attainment is key to creating a robust economy. To focus attention on this need and drive change, state and higher education leaders can set goals for increased attainment rates, devise plans for achieving goals, and develop data systems for monitoring progress. Information and data about progress help leaders monitor the impact of their policy decisions, identify areas for improvement and target future policies and resources to address needs.

Attainment goal and completion goal are terms that are often used interchangeably. They are actually different. Attainment refers to the educational levels of the state population while completion measures the rate at which students enrolled at an institution or group of institutions complete their degree or credential programs. Completions contribute to a state’s attainment rate. Changing attainment levels requires attention to students already enrolled as well as the enrollment, persistence and completion of new students, particularly those from underserved populations.

Several states and systems have developed strong, ambitious, equity-minded postsecondary educational attainment goals to drive increases in attainment. An analysis of these goals revealed several common characteristics:

  • The goal is quantifiable. It includes a number or percentage increase that can be quantitatively measured over time.
  • The goal is challenging. It requires “stretching” in that it cannot be easily achieved through population increases.
  • The goal includes a long-term target date that is tied to a specific date to demonstrate commitment and drive expectations.
  • The goal addresses equity through closing postsecondary attainment gaps for underrepresented populations such as minority, low-income and working adult (age 25 and older) populations.
  • The goal is codified in a way that it serves as the overarching framework for the state’s postsecondary strategic plan, budgeting practices and state policy initiatives, such as articulated in statute and/or the state’s strategic plan for postsecondary education.

State Examples

Each of the following state examples is a policy solution crafted in response to the unique circumstances of the state in which it was formed. As a private foundation, Lumina does not support or oppose any legislation. Lumina provides educational information, nonpartisan research and analysis to advance Goal 2025.


On October 30, 2015, the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board adoptedClosing the Gap 2020: A Master Plan for Higher Education in Arkansas. The plan is organized around supporting the state’s goal of reaching 60 percent postsecondary attainment among the state’s adult citizens in order to close the gap between workforce needs and attainment. Attainment among Arkansas adults stood at 43.4 percent in 2013-14. The plan also establishes four supporting goals that will help propel the state toward the needed 40 percent increase in the number of postsecondary credentials awarded. Supporting goals include increasing the college and university completion rates by 10 percent; increasing, by fall 2018, enrollment of adult students between the ages of 25 and 54 by 50 percent; raising the attainment rates of underserved students in the state by 10 percent; and improving college affordability through effective resource allocation.


As a result of looking more deeply at data about attainment, attainment gaps and workforce needs, the Colorado Commission on Higher Education included among its state goals eliminating disparities in postsecondary access, progress and completion and reducing the attainment gaps among students from underserved communities, particularly low-income and Latino students.  Colorado’s 2012 master plan set an overall goal of increasing the percentage of Coloradans ages 25 to 34 who hold high-quality postsecondary certificates or degrees to 66 percent by 2025. The commission recognized that to achieve the overall goal, it would be necessary to focus its strategic plans and policies on reducing the attainment gap between White adults and the state’s growing Latino population.


In 2016, the Indiana Commission for Higher Education adopted its current strategic plan for higher education—Reaching Higher, Delivering Value: A State Agenda to Increase the Value of Higher Education in Indiana—which sustains the commitment to the goal of increasing the proportion of the state’s adults with quality education and training beyond high school to 60 percent by 2025. The commission’s 2007 strategic plan, Reaching Higher: Strategic Directions for Higher Education in Indiana, set specific goals for improvement around access, affordability, success, college preparation and contributions to the state’s economy with specific attention to improving access and success for minority, low-income and at-risk populations. The 2012 strategic plan—Reaching Higher, Achieving More—maintained Indiana’s focus by laying out three specific, numeric goals for attainment, completion and degree production.

In 2013, the commission adopted a resolution committing to cutting the state’s attainment gap in half by 2018 and eliminating it by 2025. Further, the resolution requests that the commission annually report on progress and completion rates for different student populations in annual college readiness and completion reports. Finally, the resolution also commits to requesting that individual institutions set targets for closing gaps in completion rates and report them to the commission for inclusion in an annual completion report.


Like many states, Maryland faces significant demographic and economic shifts that informed state leaders’ commitment to increasing postsecondary attainment and closing attainment gaps.  Maryland Ready, the 2013-2017 state plan for postsecondary education, includes a commitment to closing achievement gaps and establishes goals around increasing access, affordability and completion and improving diversity. To draft the plan, the Maryland Higher Education Commission established six writing groups, which consisted of faculty, administrators and state officials from the different higher education sectors in the state. One of the writing groups focused specifically on equity issues, providing key ideas and content for the plan. Earlier, in 2009, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley had set a statewide postsecondary attainment goal of 55 percent of adults between the ages of 25 and 64 holding at least one postsecondary degree or credential by the year 2025. After translating the state attainment goal into completion goals for systems and institutions, leaders began to develop metrics to monitor their progress. In 2013, Maryland lawmakers enacted legislation that establishes requirements aimed at improving college readiness and completion in alignment with the 55 percent goal.


In 2013, the Oregon Education Investment Board (OEIB) and Higher Education Coordinating Commission formally committed to equity as a core principle for public higher education in a vision statement referred to as an “equity lens.”  Recognizing that educational attainment and achievement gaps threaten the state’s economic competitiveness and capacity to innovate, state leaders committed to making postsecondary policy and investment decisions with equity goals always in mind. By looking at decisions through an equity lens, the OEIB aims to provide a common vocabulary and protocol for resource allocation and evaluation of strategic investments. Oregon leaders identified the gaps between white, affluent students and underserved students, including out-of-school youth, English language learners, racial and ethnic minorities and low-income students living in rural areas of the state. Leaders also formally recognized that meeting the needs of such populations within the state is critical for meeting the state’s 40/40/20 attainment goals, which were codified by state lawmakers with the enactment of SB253 in 2011. The goal states that by 2025, 40 percent of the state’s adult population will earn a baccalaureate degree or higher, another 40 percent will earn an associate degree or certificate, and the remaining 20 percent or less will hold a high school degree.


In Texas, population groups with the lowest college enrollment and graduation rates are growing most quickly and dramatically. Texas leaders recognized that without efforts to address the gaps in postsecondary attainment, the state would face an overall decline in attainment. Starting in 2000, state leaders began to establish goals for increasing postsecondary education participation and attainment. The state’s latest strategic plan—60x30TX: Texas Higher Education Strategic Plan: 2015-2030—sets four specific goals, including increasing the share of the state’s 25- to 34-year-olds who hold a degree or certificate to 60 percent by 2030.

In 2000, following an extensive process of data analysis, internal research, and vetting with external stakeholders, the Texas Higher Education Plan—Closing the Gaps—committed the state to achieving four goals by 2015: closing gaps in postsecondary participation, success, excellence and research. Specifically, the plan set a goal to close the gaps in participation rates across Texas and increase statewide participation. The plan also outlined specific 2015 and interim targets for Black, Hispanic and White student participation. The original plan was adopted in 2000. Revised targets for 2006-2015 were adopted in 2006, and an accelerated plan for closing the gaps was adopted in 2010. In June 2013, Texas lawmakers enacted HB2036, which established a commission to assess and identify future higher education and workforce needs and to make recommendations for meeting them. More specifically, the bill directed the commission to develop recommendations for attaining a state workforce in which 60 percent of workers hold a postsecondary credential, certificate or degree by the time of the state’s bicentennial in 2036.

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